LimmudLA 2011

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Last year, I was so exhausted going into the conference that I didn’t get as much out of it as I would’ve liked.

This year, a week before the show, I wrote down a note to “Take speed at LimmudLA.”

I meant sudafed, which I took for a couple of months last fall for nasal congestion. It’s legal speed and I kept a supply in the drawer, shlepped them to LimmudLA, and every morning over the weekend, popped a couple and then went for a 30-minute walk looking for sunshine.

I felt good all conference!

My weekend at LimmudLA is invariably my favorite weekend of the year. I talked about it for my last two weeks of psycho-therapy. How could I make the most of this opportunity to connect with others?

Well, I could sit down and write in my journal!

Feb. 18. “Here I am at LimmudLA. I’m happy, healthy and here. I have high hopes for the conference. I want to be my best self. I want to let my guard down and let others in.

“My superior use allows me to learn more easily. I have fewer defenses and habitual patterns of thinking. I feel myself moving elegantly. Maybe I will teach a session on Alexander Technique next year? I want people to enjoy my company so much that they will want to pay for the privilege! I want to feel confident and filled with purpose, not weak and tired. I have felt confident and filled with purpose before, often when heading in a non-ideal direction. So now I’m poised, paused, and searching for my way.”

“It’s a good challenge to write with a free neck. There are a few attractive women here.

“I had quite the rollercoaster of emotions about my finances yesterday.

“Shmuley Boteach was supposed to be here but he has a family engagement. The mood is quiet and subdued.

“Rabbi Levin-Kruss from South Africa mentions that sometimes he thinks he’s moving people with his words and then a woman will raise her hand and say, ‘Could you say ‘catastrophe’ again?'”

Feb. 21. 10:30 a.m. The future of Jewish LA Panel with Jay Sanderson, David Suissa, and Jason Ablin, head of Milken Community High School, who says that 730 of his 760 students would not be in a Jewish school if it was not for Milken. He mentions the school will offer tackle football next year but they’re trying to think of the Jewish approach to tackle football.

A recently graduated senior from Milken says that if the school promotes a Jewish approach to tackle football, it is likely that few kids will want to participate. You can’t keep pushing the Jewish angle without blowback from the kids.

Clive Lawton says we chase our clientelle instead of chastising our clientelle.

Jay Sanderson says he went to YICC a couple of weeks ago. He talks about the big smiles the kids had when they went up to Rabbi Muskin for a lollipop.

Jay, who was raised Orthodox, says he prefers to work out in the morning rather than daven. His friend, the Conservative rabbi Irwin Kula, pointed out to him that many of the morning prayers are about taking care of the body so a workout can be a path to God.

Clive is aghast. He says that we can’t tell Jews that working out is as valid a morning ritual as davening.

Sunday 4:30 PM–5:40 PM. Comedy Writing Workshop with Joel Chasnoff and Ze’ev Korn.

Most of the crowd are kids aged seven to 13. Joel and Ze’ev huddle outside to recalibrate their approach.

They come back in and tell us that a comedian looks at the world to see what’s out of place. What is out of place, for instance, at LimmudLA?

The room starts talking about food, how awful it was, how there was too much cabbage, how there was all this talk about going green and yet all the utensils were plastic and how people were dumping trash in the recycling cans.

How the good food ran out quickly. I didn’t know there was suishi for lunch but it ran out after 20 minutes. But there was always plenty of coleslaw though cabbage makes you fart.

Why are people rushing the tables for bad food?

It’s weird that people don’t leave the hotel for 72 hours (except for havdala). The Shabbos elevator is weird. Non-Jews are ticked. How do we look to the goyim? Does it make them want to convert? What do all the Australian pilots think of the Jews with the funny hats?

The bizarre hypnotic lamp at the help desk.

There’s a lot of talk about respecting the Sabbath space but a dozen TVs operate in the bar.

Ze’ev: “There are no wrong answers.”

Joel: “You are such a social worker.”

Last year’s sessions specialized in shocking titles. Sessions should be rated – G, PG, R and X for the midnight twister.

Choosing a session is like dating in LA. There are so many possibilities, temptations. You just want to dip in and out. A lot of the sessions sound sexier than they are while many of the text sessions are hot, so hot that the presenters get followed into the bathrooms by over-eager groupies.

No matter which session I attend, there’s always the same angry man raising his hand and ranting away.

What do the goyim think about our blood drive? Do they think we have ulterior motives? That we’re getting ready for Passover and need goyish blood for our matza?

What if the hotel hosted another convention simultaneously? An etiquette convention?

What’s the difference between a cult and a religion? Cults have more sex, fewer scholarships.

“Costa Mesa” is Spanish for cubed salami.

Why is LimmudLA held in Costa Mesa? Why are there no Orange County Jews here?

I take a class in love from
Suzanne Brody. She asks us to write down five things we’re devoted to. I write: “Meaning, Judaism, writing, friends, Alexander Technique.”

Then she asks us to give up one. I give up the Technique. Then friends. Then writing. Then Judaism. And I’m left with meaning.

Feb. 21: “My connection ability is unchanged. With my type of person, I connect quickly, intensely, deeply. Most of the people who like me, however, have a paternalistic attitude towards me. Our connection is not deep. They just feel sorry for me. There are at least as many people who hate me as who love me. Most people take cues on how to relate to me. They go with the popular attitude. Some can be charmed.

“There are many other socially disconnected people at LimmudLA, mainly guys, who nobody wants to talk to. I don’t want to talk to them either.

“The type of people I connect with at the highest percentage are idiosyncratic writers who don’t care if they offend. Therefore it is of primo importance that I make more money and get back into writing classes so I can connect with my people.

“My favorite people at this year’s LimmudLA are Amy-Jill Levine, Arthur Kurzweil, Joel Chasinoff and Clive Lawton.”

“I have such intense conversations with —-. She’s similar to the types of women I date. I bet she’s passionate.

“AJL said something wise to me when I told her I was the first religious Jew my father had met: ‘Be a good representative then.’

“I connect intensely occasionally but feel disconnected most of the time. Feeling lonely in a crowd is a horrible feeling. I took full advantage of LimmudLA. I got my money’s worth. I’ve settled into my CPAP machine. I’ve learned the right way to use it. I sleep OK with it. I’ve overcome my shyness about using it in front of someone.”

Rabbi Rabbs emails:


I just read your blog entry about your limmud LA conference. Nice write-up.
Just wanted to say that the “Jewish approach” to high school football would
obviously be to play all games on Thursday. Doing so in and of itself would
educate the rest of the world about Shabbos.

That’s a no-brainer.

I lol’d at the guy named “Rabbi Kula” telling everyone it’s ok not to daven. I
almost don’t believe that is his actual name. It’s a joke, right? I wouldv’e
stood up and said, “well, Rabbi Kula, I’m Rabbi Ikar Hadin, and I say you’re

Finally, I saw in the video from the other night that I rudely cut you off
when you were starting to tell us that the women there were out of your
league. So, let’s be sure to start off the show with you telling us that story
next time.

Here are the sessions I took in order:

Rabbi Mordechai (Moti) Bar-Or

Join a discussion with a general in the Israel Defense Force (IDF). What is a Jewish army all about? What can it teach us while we’re in the Diaspora?

Rabbi David Levin-Kruss

Friday 3:45 PM–4:55 PM

Do you remember the would-be convert that came to Shamai and asked for all of Judaism to be explained in a few minutes? Shamai chased him away. What would have happened if the questioner had given Shamai an hour? Using just ten verses of the Torah, we present a possible answer to this challenge.

Talmudic Mind, Beginner’s Mind: An Introduction

Arthur Kurzweil

Friday 5:30 PM–6:40 PM

You don’t have to be an absolute beginner to attend this class, but it can be a great advantage. If you have never encountered a page of the Talmud, if you are one of the many who want to start again and give it another try, or if you just want to see what it is and why our ancestors spent their lives studying Talmud, join us for an authentic Jewish learning experience — in English. We will focus on some Kabbalistic passages in the Talmud as we discover how our ancestors search for the truth.

Clive Lawton 9 pm: Throughout the 20th century, American and Israeli Jewry conducted a dialogue of the deaf concerning the best way forward for Jews. On one thing they agreed: life in Europe was unsustainable for Jews and they’d been wise to get out. Didn’t the Shoah prove that? Actually, European Jewry is still there and has something important to say, offering a ‘third way’ forward for the 21st century. And we’ll persuade you to listen!

Saturday 11:00 AM–12:10 PM

Amy-Jill Levine:
Despite increasing understanding between Synagogue and Church, anti-Jewish sermons are still heard every Sunday. Ironically, they are preached by well-meaning priests and pastors who would be horrified to know that they are conveying anti-Jewish messages. Why does this unfortunate situation arise, what stereotypes are invoked, what can be done to prevent it, and how might better biblical study create good news for Jews and Christians alike?

Arthur Kurzweil: Saturday 12:30 PM–1:40 PM

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz is one of the most extraordinary Jewish teachers in our time. His monumental translation of and commentary on the Talmud, as well as his many books on topics ranging from basic Judaism to the profound ideas of Kabbalah, have earned Rabbi Steinsaltz an almost universal reputation as a living Sage of Israel. Join Arthur Kurzweil, who has been Rabbi Steinsaltz’s New York chauffeur and student for over 30 years, for an exploration and appreciation of Rabbi Steinsaltz’s work.

Joel Chasnoff: The 188th Crybaby Brigade: An American in the IDF

Saturday 2:00 PM–3:10 PM

Hear about the unique experiences of an American serving as a tank gunner for a year in the Israeli Army as detailed in the memoir “The 188th Crybaby Brigade,” and learn about some of the challenges of writing and publishing an Israel-themed book.

David Levin-Kruss: When Enough Is Enough

Saturday 3:30 PM–4:40 PM

Using a provocative section of the Talmud, we will examine God’s and our relationship to the sea, learn how to use this as a metaphor for dealing with pain and suffering, and see how a wide range of modern thinkers, such as Joseph Soloveitchik, Eliezer Berkovits, Harold Kushner, and Jon Levenson, expand upon this Talmudic passage in their writings.

Clive Lawton Saturday 5:00 PM–6:10 PM:

Holocaust education for school-age children was designed 30 years ago in the UK. Learn from one of the original curriculum writers and teacher trainers and learn about the quite radical conclusions he has reached. Come and find out what they are – and argue if you want.

Mordechai (Moti) Bar-Or, Einat Kapach, Joel Zeff

Saturday 7:30 PM–8:30 PM

Global History and Culture, Israel
Share a meal and lively discussion about what it’s really like to live in Israel today. Talk about day-to-day life and Israeli culture without the politics. Grab your dinner and come on over.

Amy-Jill Levine

Sunday 9:00 AM–10:10 AM

Jesus of Nazareth followed the Torah of Moses and found inspiration in the Prophets of Israel. Yet, Christians (and not a few Jews) often incorrectly regard Jesus as rejecting Judaism, and incorrectly regard first-century Judaism as legalistic, misogynist, vengeful, and xenophobic. Understanding Jesus in his Jewish context corrects anti-Jewish misperceptions, prevents all-too-frequent anti-Jewish sermons, recovers Jewish history, and offers new possibilities for interfaith dialogue.

Jewish LA 2111: Our Next 100 Years

Sunday 10:30 AM–11:40 AM

Federation President Jay Sanderson leads a panel spanning the breadth of Jewish Los Angeles as community leaders share their predictions about some of the central challenges that face our community in the next decade (or century). Then we’ll turn the discussion over to you.

Michael Helfand Sunday 12:00 PM–1:10 PM

In courts around the country, Jewish litigants are taking Beit Din (rabbinical court) decisions and having them turned into binding and enforceable awards. This presentation considers how that process works, what pitfalls to avoid in that process, and what the larger implications of this dynamic are for collaboration between religious and secular authorities.

Oren Lazar Sunday 1:30 PM–2:40 PM

This session will look at why 2011 will be a critical year for the US-Israel relationship. Get a behind-the-scenes look at current events impacting Israel and learn what is being done about them in Washington.

Judaism, Jesus, Gender, and Sexuality

Amy-Jill Levine

Sunday 3:00 PM–4:10 PM

Christian commentators, looking to Jesus as a champion of women’s rights, occasionally portray his Jewish context as comparable to, if not worse than, life under the Taliban. How did this obscene view of Judaism develop, and how does the New Testament help us to reconstruct the lives of Jewish women in the first century?

Comedy Writing Workshop

Joel Chasnoff, Ze’ev Korn

Sunday 4:30 PM–5:40 PM

Several Limmudniks will have the chance to perform stand-up comedy and open at the LimmudLA comedy show on Sunday night. All those interested in performing should definitely attend this supportive laugh-filled joke writing workshop. Everyone else is welcome too! Bring any and all ideas of what you think is funny!

Is Love Really All You Need?

Suzanne Brody

Sunday 7:30 PM–8:40 PM

Can we learn Torah from the Beatles? What do we really need in life? What fulfills us? What sustains us? What can we not live without? In this session, we’ll explore a classical Midrash about our matriarch Rachel and compare it to the Beatles and our own ideas about what is essential in life.

Tanakh Versus the Old Testament

Amy-Jill Levine

Monday 9:00 AM–10:10 AM

Although Jews and Christians share common books — the Jewish Tanakh and the Christian Old Testament — we read our shared stories in very different ways. How do differences in translation, punctuation, definitions, theology, emphasis, and even canonical order create distinct readings? What prompts these differences, and what do they suggest about Jewish and Christian identity?

What Do We Think About Israel?

Clive Lawton

Monday 12:10 PM–1:20 PM

Addressing a subject that often generates more heat than light, we will explore the original texts relating to the land of Israel and our developing relationship with it. We might even reach Zionism by the end!

Many people were unhappy with the food. They thought there was too much cabbage! One person told me: “I loved the conference. I loved the sessions. I thought the food was disgusting, though–garbage. And I did think we had a lot less people in the 30-something age range. I think it was the cost.”

We had fewer people in their 20s and 30s this year but many more children and teenagers. Overall, numbers were down about 15%, from 550 to 490.

Jonah Lowenfeld reports:

In his hour-long talk, Lawton said that for most of the second half of the 20th century, America and Israel had dominated the discourse about the future of Judaism and ignored European Jewry. Israel put forward a “nationalization” model for Judaism—the religion would be taken care of by central authorities—while America pushed its highly individualistic model in which any practice, no matter how unusual, could be called Jewish, and no authority had the right to call someone’s Jewishness into question.

Both models, Lawton said, had been shown to be wanting in the 1990s. A study of Israeli youth showed how little they knew about Judaism and a demographic assessment of American Jews showed how few Jews identified strongly with the Jewish people. Two separate crises of confidence ensued.

At the very moment that these two loud voices were realizing that their models had been constructed on shaky ground, Lawton said, Americans and Israelis also began to notice that Jews were living—and in some cases thriving—in Europe. The place that Israelis and Americans had treated exclusively as a Jewish graveyard (March of the Living) or dismissed as a place that would never be hospitable to Jews had developed what Lawton called “green shoots.” It’s now home to 3.5 million Jews.

The Europeans had managed not by model but by muddle—in Lawton’s words, by “fudging.” Lawton invited the largely American audience to look at Europe, but not to test the model. There wasn’t really a model to test. He did, however, suggest that they consider the muddle when thinking about how the Jewish future.


About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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